To anyone who knows the Edinburgh third year exchange system, you will know the Carleton place is more often than not, rejected. My personal experience was one of frustration – desperately ringing up the exchange office on a weekly basis, hoping an international place may have become available. As my flatmates chatted over accepted places to Sydney, Beijing, and Amsterdam, I told myself that I would ‘take anything’, go ‘anywhere’ – as long as I didn’t have to stay at Edinburgh and (God forbid) have my third year at university actually ‘count’.
After an anxious and restless wait, I finally received an email offering myself a place in Ottawa. Much to my embarrassment I had to google the destination…later finding out that it is in fact the capital of Canada. Accepting the place in a positive manner, I told everyone who enquired that I was going ‘to the capital of Canada’. As they replied either ‘Toronto’, ‘Montreal’ or ‘Vancouver’, I didn’t know whether to delight in their similarly dismal geographical knowledge, or be concerned that I may be arriving to somewhere of potential social (not political) insignificance.
I arrived in Ottawa and immediately realised life was operating at a significantly slower, less hectic pace. There were noticeably fewer people, made more obvious by a considerable amount of space (refer to world atlas). Whilst exploring my new surroundings, I was curious to know why every bar downtown was almost empty at 10pm on a Wednesday, later to be told that people only go out on a ‘Friday or Saturday’. In a state of panic as to what I might do most evenings, I thankfully found hope at the university’s student bar. I was indeed hesitant, yet was converted at the sight of respectfully ordered pitchers at midday on a Monday. It is here I learnt that my ‘Canadian experience’ was less likely to be that of familiar known deep house, underground dance floors and thorough consumptions of cheap vodka. Instead, I would now regularly find myself singing along to karaoke performances of folksongs amongst die-hard country western fans.
I knew the need for adjustment was along the social and cultural lines, and undeniably, I found myself to be slightly irritated by certain occurrences. Here are a few of my observations:
Firstly, you find yourself in regular disputes in Starbucks over the price charged for coffee, later to be corrected (and constantly reminded) that tax has not been included. Here you would like to point out that there is a serious case of a large amount of false advertising in North America.
Secondly, you are mistaken in thinking that you may be able to exit the outdoors of university buildings via ‘level 1’, yet you have naively forgotten that the temperature drops to -40 in the winter, and that each building has two lower floors to house the maze of underground tunnels beneath. To go outdoors you have to in fact exit via ‘level 3’.
Finally, you establish that in Canada people in clubs do not dance ‘face to face’ but instead indulge in ‘grinding’. Here you begin to question the social interaction skills of the whole Canadian male population, as well as think that your surroundings resemble something closer to a porn show than anything you’ve encountered during your time in the UK.
Despite the obvious findings that I’m now listening to different music, dancing somewhat differently and finding myself now predominantly drinking beer, I would like to think that there are deeper, more important differences to my international learning experience.
In my classes, pupils dispute as to why French language is compulsory in primary and secondary education on the West coast, when they are a whole 3,000 miles from Quebec. Since one in five Canadians are foreign born, I can’t help but think it is not only about maintaining the equality of French and English languages anymore, but securing the cultural diversity of a multiplicity of cultural nationalities. This is something I am actually experiencing. Learning and benefiting from the world views of a diversity of nationalities, in a classroom that can only be described as an ‘Academic Olympics’. My globalisation and human rights class holds disputes closer to the neutral arbitration of a UN forum than anything experienced prior; either within the homogenous demographics of my southern British boarding school or the ‘slightly’ right-sided positioning of Edinburgh’s New Town.
Despite a few cultural differences and former annoyances, I am lucky enough to be carrying out my anthropological fieldwork researching the ritual ceremonies of Ottawa’s aboriginal community, skiing in Mont Tremblant every weekend, and looking forward to a road trip to the West Coast in the summer.
Many thanks go out to the several students who kindly turned the Carleton place down.